Center For Inquiry Launches ‘Living Without Religion’ Campaign

The Center For Inquiry is beginning an ad campaign of their own this week, letting people know “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live.”

The ads can now be seen in Washington, D.C. on 15 buses and at two Metro stations. Billboards will go up in Indianapolis and Houston beginning on March 7th.

It’s a great message (though I’m sure the graphic designers in the audience will provide plenty of backlash). But as I’ve said before, the “nice” campaigns simply don’t get the type of attention the more aggressive, in-your-face campaigns do. FOX News isn’t going to pounce on this story. Bill O’Reilly isn’t going to be blowing his top. Stephen Colbert isn’t going to make fun of this. No meme is going to start as a result of the campaign. (I’d love to be proven wrong, though.)

But this isn’t about getting people angry or upset.

CFI President Ron Lindsay explains the campaign this way:

Our message is about the lives of the nonreligious, or, put another way, we’re addressing God’s relevance, not God’s existence.

CFI maintains we can have fulfilling lives without religion. The proof is right in front of us — in the lives of millions of people who have rich, rewarding lives — lives with hope, care, and love — without resort to religion.

We’re not trying to convert anyone by this campaign, if conversion implies persuading people there is no God. We are trying to prompt people to consider and converse about some of the myths surrounding the nonreligious, in particular the myth that life without God means a joyless, meaningless, selfish, self-centered life. That’s false, and we hope (there’s that word again) that a not insignificant number of people will come to realize how ridiculous such a view is.

That’s a lot to ask for out of a billboard or bus ad. While I hope for the best, I fear that the religious response to “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live” will be “No, but you need God to stay out of Hell!” And if that’s the reaction, how effective can it be?

From an organization that once promoted a very controversial Blasphemy Day, though, this is a decidedly more moderate approach, and I’m sure a lot of atheists will appreciate it.

I just don’t think the media will care.

***Update***: Some commenters are asking why I’m “negative” or opposed to these ads. I’m not. I think they’re great. I’m only saying the media won’t pay as much attention to these as other, more aggressive campaigns.

And that’s important. These billboards are ultimately all about publicity regardless of what the press releases say.

You don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on ads so that you can only reach Houston or Chicago or Indianapolis. You want local campaigns to become national ones. If the only coverage you get is local, the ad really wasn’t worth it.

Now, if local atheists find out they are not alone, or local religious people “discover” that you can indeed be good without a god, that’s a different story. Maybe that’s worth the price of the ad. But most of the atheist ads that have gone up have had two (unspoken) goals — raising the consciousness of atheists and theists locally and getting media attention anywhere.

American Atheists has gotten the most publicity for their ads. Did it change anyone’s minds? I don’t know. But they got their viewpoint across over numerous interviews. I count that as a success.

The United Coalition of Reason didn’t always get *massive* publicity, but their “Good Without God” ads did increase attendance at local atheist groups’ meeting. That’s a success, too.

But the trend lately has been: the more in-your-face the ad is, the more likely your message will be heard by a national audience.

You want the governor to complain about your ad (like one did in Iowa).

You want the subway authorities to change their policies because of your ad.

You want people to complain over things that are actually trivial.

You want airtime devoted to you.

You want parodies of your ad to be made.

If those things don’t happen, it’s hard to quantify whether your ad was worth its cost.

  • Gordon

    Nothing we can say is so inoffensive that some theist will not get “offended”

    this is on a level with “Good without God” and they blew their tops over that!

  • http://brianpuccio.net Brian Puccio

    What’s with the dash? Seems out of place.

  • http://atheistzoo.blogspot.com David Craggs

    Although it doesn’t have as much bite as other atheist campaigns, it does address a point that many religous people will disagree with, which should spark at least some debate. I’ve seen this argument that atheists cannot be moral without god on so many Christian blogs. Twitter is full this sort of nonsense too.

    It would be good to see people discussing this sort of thing on the news, although we should really be discussing whether morality is an exclusively human trait. As a Zoologist, I’d say it isn’t in the slightest and that we incorrectly use the world “human” to describe some behaviours that we see in species of animals that were here long before we had even evolved.
    If you’re interested, there is a book called “Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals” by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce.

    I’ll post a story about morality in animals on my blog, Atheist Zoo, for those who are interested.

  • Gail

    I’m sure Bill O’reilly will still be offended by this. I remember pretty much all the campaigns, even the “good without god” and similar ones, getting time on Fox News. I think we have just seen the American Atheist ads getting so much bad press lately that we forget the others got a lot of press, too. And no, it’s not an in your face ad, but I don’t see how an ad that presents a less arrogant, offensive form of atheist is a bad thing. This is the kind of ad that might speak to a closeted atheist and make them want to come out, and I don’t see much of that happening as a result of the American Atheist ads.

    P.S. Yes, the ad is ugly, but the message is nice.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s some news coverage -

    Fox 59 Indianapolis
    http://www.fox59.com/videobeta/?watchId=05a4bd3e-ef3f-49ff-b2e2-6aad55001531

    The segment is a whopping 2:34! (And the reporter’s cute)

  • Claudia

    Why so negative Hemant? You state that believers are not going to be convinced and twice state that the media isn’t going to pay attention. What you don’t mention is why that should matter.

    They explicitly say they aren’t trying to convert anyone, so the response of the religious is rather irrelevant. The CFI isn’t talking to the religious, they’re taking to the already nonreligious or those in the process of letting go of their belief, a process that can be slowed by the incorrect assumption that if they let go of god, they have to let go of all the good things in life with it.

    It also doesn’t seem like they’re going for publicity in the “any publicity is good publicity” fashion (which is bullshit anyway). They are probably fully aware that they’re approach, since it’s not assholish, will not get them of Fox News. It won’t make them famous, but what it might to is its stated goal; to reach out to nonbelievers that may see it.

    I love it, and I wish AA would take note.

  • Stephen

    This is freaking awesome! I love it. I think it accurately portrays the atheist community. This is super!

  • Bob

    Media attention? You’re kidding, right? Last weekend, while Libya was falling apart and workers in Wisconsin were protesting at the capitol building …

    … the #3 story on the CBS News iPhone app was: “Justin Bieber Cuts His Hair.”

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    This definitely a good start. It provides something for those people living as “functionally nonreligious” to consider. I hope this continues and they use some of the themes from the CFI blog post such as:

    “Is God irrelevant?”
    “Fulfilling lives without religion?”
    “Myths about nonbelievers busted”

    I think the “irrelevant” approach takes the discussion to a whole new level, ending theist’s attempts to prove some sort of “god” exists, followed by unproductive debate and instead having to show what their religion and their religion only brings to the table to make the world better.

    “Fulfilling lives” would provide an opportunity to showcase nonbelievers, much like “Good without god” and for those wanting a more controversy-oriented approach, the myths could quote specific people and then debunk them.

    My favourite idea for a controversial ad would be “Morality without religion” and show a list of moral positions we accept along with others we don’t such as “death to blasphemers” and “people like us deserve better treatment than others” which would be crossed out. That should provide all the spice that some folks crave. :)

  • http://www.agmmusings.blogspot.com Aging Goth Mom

    I just wish the wording would say “a god” instead of the capitalized “God”. There are so many deities out there, that to single out one of them makes it seems as though there’s just that one “God” that is (ir)relevant. I don’t need ANY of the pantheon of gods, not just THE “God”.

  • Matto the Hun

    I agree with Gordon 100%

    I’m confused as to why you thought this is somehow different from the “Good w/o God” campaign Hemant.

    The link posted by Anonymous was worth a quick look.

    A) For some reason they show a billboard that the CFI sign is replacing, “Changing the World through Caring for Kids”, as if to imply that CFI is pushing the “Kids” message out on purpose. If is was a cell phone ad the CFI was replacing would they have bothered to show that? I doubt it. Dick move.

    B) Many thanks to the pastor at the end for showing that religion is inherently divisive and will take an otherwise decent person like himself and twist his mind and morality to treat those not in his group as less-than.

    What a douche.

  • Jason

    Four of these will be going up in Indianapolis, IN. I’m looking forward to it

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I like it.

    I’m also don’t evaluate things on whether or not they get air-time on shows by personalities such as Bill O’Reilly or Steven Corbert..

    I think a measured steady positive message is very important.

    Let the irrational religious over-reactions to measured steady positive atheist messages get the air-time (and be made fun of) by shows such as Cobert.

  • Jane Smith

    Yes, I like it too and it would be nice to see this sort of campaign running in South Africa (where I live). Fat chance, unfortunately.

    I totally agree with Jeff P “a measured, steady, positive message is very important”.

    What’s that saying? “A whisper carries further than a shout.”

  • Fundie Troll

    But as I’ve said before, the “nice” campaigns simply don’t get the type of attention the more aggressive, in-your-face campaigns do.

    And I’m sure Westboro Baptist Church feels the same way…

    Need I say more?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I added an update to the post… it answers some of the criticism I’m hearing in the comments.

  • Claudia

    I added an update to the post… it answers some of the criticism I’m hearing in the comments.

    In response to the response, while I do see the use of controversy for gaining visibility, I think its also important that ad campaigns:

    A- Realize that the adage “all publicity is good publicity” is bull.
    B- Reflect the opinions and values of the community members.

    I mean, if we want to go provocative, we could go much further. How about this signed by American Atheists? I’m sure it would get us publicity eh? We could picket funerals with signs saying “You’re loved one is gone forever. The afterlife is a delusion”. I’m sure that would get us on CNN the next day.

    I say this not because I think you would agree with such tactics (I’m certain you wouldn’t) but because when you start down the road of “Well we have to offend them, because otherwise we won’t get on TV” you’ve stepped into exceptionally trecherous territory. To each their own, but I won’t even consider giving money to AA because their campaigns do not reflect my values, while I’m hoping to become a regular contributing member to CFI (though I’m also considering a couple of others) once my finances improve.

    It’s not just us who face this choice. Christians who help the poor and the sick don’t get even a tenth of the publicity of those who spend their lives fighting gay rights and abortion, but I like to think they consider that their activities are more in line with their stated values than those of their much more well known and well funded brethren.

  • Daniel

    I love this ad and greatly prefer it to the AA ads.

    I don’t think that getting national responses at any cost, no matter how negative, should be the atheist priority. I’ve been embarrassed by the AA campaigns; I think they make us look smug and close minded. The “Good without God” and now “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live” campaigns are so much better; they help counter the prevailing image of atheists as immoral and uncaring which is a major barrier to many people thinking about religion critically.

    This ad campaign might get less publicity (although plenty of people were not too happy about the “Good without God” ad, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it still does get a lot of publicity), but I think this is much more respectable and productive a tactic to spread information about atheism.

  • Carlie

    I really like it. I think that unlike the really provocative ads, where this one hits is to get under the defenses of the Christians who see it. They’ll have an initial “Hey!”, but then possibly followed by a “Huh, that’s not so bad”. Fewer people might see it, but it might have a bigger positive impact on the ones who do.

  • Barker

    I doubt that the Center for Inquiry wants the message of this sign to be “God exists, but you don’t need him”, but that’s exactly how many people will read it as it’s now written. “You don’t need a god…” would be much better.

  • Douglas Kirk

    I like both the ads by CFI and the ads by AA.

    They both dispute simple and untrue axioms held by believers (i.e. There is any reason whatsoever to think gods exist for AA and gods are necessary for CFI). Both are very important messages to get out and both raise a little bit of controversy.

    And controversy is what we need to raise consciousness.

  • http://cincinatheist.blogspot.com cincinatheist

    I saw David Silverman speak here in Cincinnati last week at our Free Inquiry Group. He talked a bit to what his approach as president of AA will be in regards to ad campaigns. He wants AA ads to be more in-your-face and “edgy” or “biting.” Similar to what Hemant is talking about in regards to garnering publicity.

    David admitted that AA’s message isn’t for every atheist. But his stance is that if their “controversial” ads help campaigns such as Good without God or One Nation Indivisible look less controversial and moves those “nicer” atheist ads toward the middle of the mainstream as compared to the AA ads, then he considers that a mission accomplished as well. He admitted that AA is going to take a harder line activist role against religion, and if that’s not your thing, David’s ok with that. There are plenty of other less in-your-face atheist and freethinking groups out there that one can align themselves with. But he views AA as the loud mouthpiece to “get people in the door” so to speak.

  • CanadianNihilist

    meh, it makes it point. and all the agnostics here will be happy that it’s so very gentile.

    but I think Hemant is right. It’s not going to get the attention it needs, unless somehow you get Bill O’Reilly to insist that you’re a bare faced liar.

  • Simon

    The United Coalition of Reason didn’t always get *massive* publicity, but their “Good Without God” ads did increase attendance at local atheist groups’ meeting. That’s a success, too.

    You are aware that both DC and Indiana have a significant CFI local presence with paid staff on the ground and multiple monthly events, yes? (CFI DC is also part of DC CoR)

    To clarify, are you saying that increased local visibility would make an ad not worthwhile or simply less worthwhile?

    (Hemant says: I’m aware of the CFI presence there. I think local press is fine. But the money for many of these large ad campaigns — no word on CFI’s budget here, but other large campaigns have been in the tens of thousands of dollars — is not cost effective if it means *only* a local story or two.

    Similarly, a couple extra people finding out about local meetings is great, but it’s not *as* great as thousands of people hearing more about atheism because of national press.)

  • http://~ AxeGrrl

    Jeff P wrote:

    I like it.

    I’m also don’t evaluate things on whether or not they get air-time on shows by personalities such as Bill O’Reilly or Steven Corbert..

    I think a measured steady positive message is very important.

    I completely agree. And I think it’s much better/effective than the AA ads, for the last reason you mention above.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    We could picket funerals with signs saying “You’re loved one is gone forever. The afterlife is a delusion”. I’m sure that would get us on CNN the next day.

    I say this not because I think you would agree with such tactics (I’m certain you wouldn’t) but because when you start down the road of “Well we have to offend them, because otherwise we won’t get on TV” you’ve stepped into exceptionally trecherous territory.

    @Claudia: Thanks for speaking out on this!

    I for one long for the days when atheism was about spreading the truth, not manipulating people through cheesy marketing tactics.

    If the only coverage you get is local, the ad really wasn’t worth it.

    @Hemant: Speak for yourself. I imagine the local coalition for reason branches think their efforts were worthwhile whether they got national attention or not. I imagine that national attention is a bonus, but not the purpose of these grassroots organizations.

    But most of the atheist ads that have gone up have had two (unspoken) goals — raising the consciousness of atheists and theists locally and getting media attention anywhere.

    Why raise the consciousness of atheists? Atheists already know that you can be good without God.

    You might raise the idea that atheists can be good without God among theists, but those who don’t think so are not going to change their minds because they saw a billboard. Do those National Atheism Day – April 1 bumper stickers really get you thinking? I doubt it.

    But they got their viewpoint across over numerous interviews. I count that as a success.

    Why? What does that accomplish? One day it’s Gabrielle Giffords, the next it’s Egypt, now it’s Libya. Soon you forget anything before that. I can barely remember the name Clay Duke. Any media attention is gone and soon forgotten. And that’s true with much bigger media stories. The smaller stories will fade more quickly and be recognized by fewer. So why bother?

    The United Coalition of Reason didn’t always get *massive* publicity, but their “Good Without God” ads did increase attendance at local atheist groups’ meeting. That’s a success, too.

    Eureka, I have found it! These campaigns are nothing more and nothing less than membership drives.

    But the trend lately has been: the more in-your-face the ad is, the more likely your message will be heard by a national audience.

    And then the real goal – the more members you’ll get.

    You want people to complain over things that are actually trivial.

    Atheist organizations have made this an art, so I can’t blame them for banding together with other trivial complainers.

    You want airtime devoted to you.

    You want parodies of your ad to be made.

    If those things don’t happen, it’s hard to quantify whether your ad was worth its cost.

    Let the media whoredom begin!

  • CanadianNihilist

    @ Non-Litigious Atheist

    I’m not fully disagreeing with you, as much of what you say is true, but it is also true that you can’t get much done without money.
    So atheist organizations need funding to spread their message. What’s your point?
    The religious reich can buy more propaganda then you can imagine. It’s foolish to think you can go up against them with empty pockets.

  • Freemage

    The biggest problem I have with the in-your-face approach is that it often oversteps on a factual basis.

    The “You KNOW” from the most recent AA ads is a good example of this–as was displayed on the thread, that is easily read as a claim of a proven negative–something a first-year philosophy student can disassemble in his sleep.

    Which means that in the long run, you end up creating a host of attackable talking-points for the opposition.

    Aggressive is fine, but the stronger your wording, the more tighter your standards will need to be. The AA ads failed in that regard.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I’m in agreement that a variety of approaches are necessary (some more subtle, some more “in your face”). I view it as a bit unfortunate, though, that AA with the name it has (American Atheists) is the more in your face organization. It leaves the perception that all American atheists are also “in your face”. Image if there was a group calling itself “American Christians” that was advertising “in your face” about believing and doing ABC or you are going to hell. That probably wouldn’t sit well with all the other Christians who don’t identify with the “American Christians”.

    I don’t have a solution and agree that AA has a right to use that name and advertise in whatever way they want. I just think their name is a bit unfortunate.

  • CanadianNihilist

    You may be on to something Jeff. Why don’t we start “American Christians” and advertise stoning your daughter and what not.
    *sigh* I know christians will say, “that’s just old testament stuff and we don’t follow that.” while our campain can say That’s Bullshit! you follow creationism you follow old testament.
    It’s been a long time since I read the bible but I don’t remember jesus explaining how humans got here.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    works for me. and i too like the “controversial” AA ads as well. any public space highlighting atheism = good in my book. there are lots of different ways to spread the message. there are many different types of people in various stages of questioning belief.

    i do agree with Hemant, about publicity and TV. the sad fact is that if it’s not ‘controversial’ the modern media will mostly ignore it. otoh, most people who form their opinions based on what they see on TV are probably also unlikely to have the critical thinking skills or intellectual curiosity to consider messages like this. if they did they wouldn’t be watching so much TV.

  • Simon
  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    Messages that humanize atheists need to be a part of the mix. Arguing about gods’ existence is important, but ultimately intractable. Demonstrating that atheists can be good, happy, satisfied people, otoh, starts to take away the stigma associated with nonbelief. In the long run, that may well be more important to maintaining secular society than pitched battles over gods’ existence. It’s harder to paint atheists as the bogeyman when the bogeyman is that nice couple next door with the cute little boy. The parallels with the gay equality movement in this respect are really strong.

    Hemant’s point regarding cost effectiveness from follow-on publicity is well taken, but it only goes so far. If that’s the only objective, we’ll never spend $$ humanizing atheists, on the theory that the return on investment is too low. I’d much rather see a patchwork of similar small campaigns across the country, knowing that it takes more money, but believing it pays higher long-term dividends.

  • Tom

    The reason this isn’t going to end up on O’Reily is that it’s too hard for him to spin it while bringing the campaign the attention it would get on his show. He doesn’t have much to work with, with all the warm, touchy imagery and easy-going wording.

    The majority of Americans feel threatened by atheists, and since the major news outlets have these people as constituents they won’t take on a story that they can’t spin so their audience can feel comfortable about it.

    I like this campaign, a little more than the AA one, but they’re both worthy in my opinion.

    @Non-Litigious Atheist: Brilliant, creative example to remind people about the consequences of going for shock value

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I just wish the wording would say “a god” instead of the capitalized “God”. There are so many deities out there, that to single out one of them makes it seems as though there’s just that one “God” that is (ir)relevant. I don’t need ANY of the pantheon of gods, not just THE “God”.

    Thank you! That’s a problem with almost all the atheist billboards that have gone up. They confine themselves to the biblical deity, which just reinforces the notion that this particular god is only deity that’s remotely likely to exist. I could easily imagine a Christian pointing to this billboard and saying, “See, even atheists spend all their time talking about God. They know He’s real. They just want to live their lives without Him.”

    That said, I do like this billboard and the campaign. It has a nice message. I’m definitely in favor of positive depictions of atheists and atheism, rather than controversy for controversy’s sake.

  • Vanessa

    In my opinion, AA is promoting negative stereotypes of atheists with their ads. I don’t care how many people see the message if it’s not a message I want representing me. CFI’s ad isn’t perfect, but it is at least trying to paint atheists in a positive light.

  • martha

    I agree Vanessa. It is like saying the pedophilia scandal in the catholic church was good for the church because it got the church publicity.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    All these billboards are great, imho. And I totally agree with Hemant on this. We need the variety. :)

  • Dan

    If you like this ad and though that the AA ads portrayed atheists in a bad light than you might want to consider donating a few dollars to CFI’s Living Without Religion campaign. I know one of Silverman’s main excuses for the AA’s more aggressive ads was that they brought in a lot of donations. It would be nice if we showed them that running ads that give good publicity for atheists can also be a financially shrewd move.

    If you are interested in helping CFI with this ad campaign than you can go to http://livingwithoutreligion.org/ and there is a “Donate” tab at the top. By the way, I’m not affiliated with CFI in any way; I just thought some people here might want to support positive ads about atheism.

  • Sarah H

    I’m proud of the ad because it values quality over getting publicity. What’s wrong with this country is people form their ideas based on how much media attention they will get. Well, look at the quality of our media — is their attention really something we should aspire to get? Well-done CFI for this mature, intelligent ad! Does everybody have to be a hater so they can get on Fox news??

  • Lion IRC

    I think the ordinary, garden variety theist can understand the difference between living without religion and living without God.

    You can “be” moral without denomination, religion, church, theology, political affiliation,
    or atheist billboard campaign

    But (monotheistic) theology holds that no one can “be” in the first place unless created by God to whom we owe gratitude for the existence of love, hope, care, morality,
    …billboard motherhood statements

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    I’m proud of the ad because it values quality over getting publicity. What’s wrong with this country is people form their ideas based on how much media attention they will get. Well, look at the quality of our media — is their attention really something we should aspire to get?

    Rock on, Sarah H! In order to make CNN you have to advocate converting all people to Judaism or else exiling all Jews to some foreign land. The reasonable points of view don’t make the news. The atheists that aren’t clamoring to become media whores are the worthwhile ones. It is a credit to them that you never hear about them participating in the food fights.

  • linko

    Well i can see all you anti god people have never been in a fox hole under fire.Or if you were you know dam well you prayed to god.Ive seen it first hand in the marine corp.At the moment of truth we will see what you belive.GOD BLESS YOU ALL


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